THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD – [2] Revelation 10 – 11: The Church in Proclamation

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

Chapters 8 and 9 taught us of the impact of the Church in prayer, assuring us that God does indeed hear the prayers of his people, and that his preliminary judgments on the world are, in part, brought on in response to those prayers.

Now in the visions John is shown in Chapters 10 and 11 we see the Church in its proclamation of the Gospel.

Here in these chapters it is important to remember that we are in the realm of visions, not history, not straight prophecy. The visions John sees in Revelation do not depict a consecutive series of events, nor are the events they depict all located at the same place. These visions jump all over the place, both in terms of time and place. They do not fit our neat, prosaic, mathematical, sequential ideas of how things ought to be. They are not supposed to be squashed into a predictable formula.

It would seem that the vision in Chapter 10, in preparing us for 11:1-14, takes us right back to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and even back further beyond that to God’s eternal purpose, planned before the beginning of time, and brought into reality in human time and place by Jesus Christ.

A. A MIGHTY ANGEL

A.1 The angel [10:1-3]
When we read John’s description of this angel it seems that this ‘mighty angel’ must surely be representative of Christ himself. Not Christ, but representing Christ in the vision. The robe like a cloud, the rainbow above his head, the face like the sun, the legs like fiery pillars – all of this looks and sounds very similar to the visions of Jesus, and of God, elsewhere in Scripture. Then the sheer size and power and authority of this angel astride the land and the sea, reinforces this intuitive perception that this ‘angel’ represents none other than Jesus, the mighty Lord of all – earth, sea, sky, everything. When we add to that the sound of his voice – the voices of seven thunders – what else can we think than that this figure in the vision is symbolic of God, for the Scriptures associate thunder with the presence and the voice of God, and in particular, the presence and voice of God in holiness and judgment.

Suggested reading:
Revelation 1:7,15,16;
Ezekiel 1:27,28
1Samuel 2:10; 7:10
2Samuel 22:14
Psalm 18:13; 104:7
John 12:29

[For a study on the representation of God by angels see Appendix #3.]

A.2 The seven thunders [verse 4]
It is obvious that what ‘the seven thunders’ spoke was intelligible to John. He understood what they said and was about to write it down, but he was commanded not to, but rather to ‘seal up’ what they had said. There is no point in our speculating what they said; God did not want John to tell us, and we should be content with that.

A.3 The angel’s oath [10:5-7]
The perception that this mighty angel represents Jesus is shaken a little here, because this ‘mighty angel’ swears by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the entire universe. Would Jesus, the Son, swear by the Father? Would Jesus, the Son, swear by himself? For he, as well as the Father, lives for ever, and he, as well as the Father, created the universe. Is there any biblical precedent?

There are a number of places where God swears by himself.

Genesis 22:16
Isaiah 45:23
Jeremiah 22:5

The content of the mighty angel’s oath is:

There will be no more delay’ - a certain period of time is about to come to an end.

‘in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet’ – when we look ahead to 11:15-19 we learn that the seventh trumpet ushers in the final judgment and the final eternal kingdom of God, that is, the new heavens and the new earth spoken of later in Revelation. So, whatever the angel is declaring is going to happen happens in the time leading up to that final reality.

‘the mystery of God…’ – we do not have to wonder what this means, because we are told about this mystery of God several times in the New Testament:

That Jesus made the mystery of the kingdom of God known to his disciples [Mark 4:11].

That the gospel is the revelation of the mystery that was hidden for long ages but now made known so that all nations might believe in God [Romans 16:25,26].

That the mystery of God had been hidden and unknowable prior to the coming of Christ to earth, but now it has been revealed, made known, to those who believe in Christ, by his Spirit [1Corinthians 2:6-16].

That God has made his mystery known in Christ [Ephesians 1:9-10].

That this mystery, long hidden but now revealed, is God’s eternal purpose that Jews and Gentiles together share in the promise of God in Christ [Ephesians 3:2-9].

That the mystery has been made known in the Gospel and constitutes ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ [Colossians 1:25-27].

That Jesus Christ is himself the mystery of God [Colossians 2:2,3] and the gospel is ‘the mystery of Christ’ [Colossians 4:4].

The mystery of God is Jesus Christ and the gospel centred on Jesus Christ.

‘… will be accomplished just as he announced to his servants the prophets.’ This phrase informs us that the time about which the mighty angel is declaring an oath, is the time of the incarnation of Christ, when the eternal purpose of God, the ‘mystery’ hidden for generations, was accomplished. The time perspective from which the angel is speaking is prior to this incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ. He is taking John back before Jesus first came to earth, and, from that time perspective, saying that all that God had told the prophets in advance about the Gospel would be accomplished in the time immediately prior to the events announced by the seventh trumpet. Before that trumpet sounds all that the prophets announced about the Gospel will be accomplished:

The incarnation of Christ will happen.
The life and ministry of Christ will happen.
The substitutionary, sin-bearing death of Christ will happen.
The resurrection and exaltation of Christ will happen.
The worldwide proclamation of the Gospel and the salvation of people from every tribe and people and nation will happen.

The New Testament, particularly the Gospels, but not only the Gospels, repeatedly explains the events of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection, and the establishment of the church through the proclamation of the Gospel, as the fulfilment or accomplishment of all that the prophets had announced on God’s behalf.

Several words in Revelation 10:11 are of particular importance here:

‘is about to’ [NIV] is a more accurate translation of the Greek mello than the KJV ‘shall begin to’. The angel is not talking about the beginning of the seventh trumpet, but about the time immediately prior to that trumpet beginning.

‘will be accomplished’ – The Greek verb is teleo, which means to accomplish, to bring something to its intended goal or completion. It is the verb uttered by Jesus Christ on the cross when he said ‘It is finished’ – indicating that by his crucifixion the eternal purpose of God was accomplished. For other similar uses of this verb and the related teleioo see the scriptures below.

Suggested reading:
Luke 12:50; 18:31; 22:37
John 4:34; 5:36; 17:4; 19:28

In addition, using other words, the New Testament persistently reports the fulfilment or accomplishment of the words of the prophets in the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The references are too many to include, but here is a selection:

Matthew  5:17,18; 26:52-56
Mark 1:15
Luke 4:21; 9:31; 24:25-27, 44-47
John 5:37-47
Acts 3:18; 13:33; 26:22,23; 28:33
Romans 1:2; 3:21
2Corinthians 1:20

‘announced’ – the Greek verb is euangelizo which means to proclaim the good news, to preach the gospel. This clearly identifies that the message of the prophets, the mystery of God, which will be accomplished prior to the seventh trumpet is the Gospel. It is the good news of salvation announced to and proclaimed by the prophets. It is the gospel announced beforehand to Abraham [Galatians 3:8]. It is the message of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, who for us and our salvation was sent by God the Father into the world.

A.4 ‘Go, take the scroll …’ [10:8-11]
The mighty angel has just declared his oath – that the gospel announced by God to his servants the prophets, that deep mystery of God which we call ‘the Gospel’, will be accomplished prior to the seventh trumpet. The accomplishment of this mystery, this eternal purpose of God, includes the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the proclamation of that incarnation, life, death and resurrection to the ends of the earth. The ultimate salvation will be accomplished before the ultimate judgment.

What now follows seems to be a mini-drama in which, in the context of this vision, John interacts with the mighty angel, symbolically representing the interaction of every individual believer with Jesus Christ and his word, his gospel.

John saw the mighty ‘angel’, this mighty ‘messenger’ [the Greek angelos means either ‘angel’ or ‘messenger’] coming down from heaven with the little scroll, lying open in his hand [10:1,2]. God, the ‘voice from heaven’, commanded John to take it [verse 8]. This ‘angel’ who brought the word of God from heaven to earth, from God to man, commanded him to ‘take it and eat’ it – to make it part of himself. We know that Jesus is the one who came down from heaven, and the one through whom God spoke his final word. We know that Jesus has given us the words of life, by which we have eternal life, and that he repeatedly commands us to hear, to obey, to believe in his words.

Suggested reading:
John 1:14; 3:13,34; 5:24; 6:32-68; 8:31; 12:48; 14:10
Hebrews 1:2
Mark 2:2; 4:33
Luke 4:22,32; 5:1; 8:21; 9:26

Here in this interactive vision, both God the Father and God the Son command John [and us] to believe the words of the Son. Their strong insistence that John take and eat the scroll depicts the urgent necessity of believing the words of Jesus Christ, the good news of the kingdom, the gospel of salvation. Without these words, apart from the message of Christ, there is no salvation.

So, the mighty angel says, they will be sweet as honey in John’s mouth. The Gospel announced by the prophets and accomplished by Jesus Christ:

Is the word of life.
Is the word of truth.
Cleanses from sin.
Sets people free.
Results in eternal life, and all other aspects of salvation.

So ‘sweet’ is this Word, this Gospel, that Scripture runs out of adjectives to describe it – it is incomparable, it is rich and lavish, it is immeasurable, it surpasses knowledge, it is more than we could ever imagine, it is complete. It lacks nothing. It requires no additions. It cannot be merited and therefore it cannot be lost. It satisfies forever. Sweet, so sweet, is the salvation freely given to us in and through Jesus Christ. Peace. Joy. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from condemnation. Forgiveness of sin. Reconciliation with God. The gift of righteousness – of legal acquittal. New and eternal life replacing death. Safety in the hands of the Shepherd. The sealing, guaranteeing action of the indwelling Spirit. Permanent present unimpeded access to the Father.

Nothing could be sweeter!

And in addition to this personal sweetness, is an additional and external element to the sweetness: that the Gospel, as Paul stated, ‘is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ [Romans 1:16], and that through the Gospel God is glorified.

‘It will turn your stomach sour …’
But the angel, shall we say Jesus Christ, said to John: ‘It will turn your stomach sour’. And that is what happened in this vision. John ate the scroll, and it turned his stomach sour. And we wonder what awful reality is depicted by this sourness in this symbolic, interactive vision?

The answer that immediately comes to mind is the opposition and persecution that follows a person’s acknowledgment of Jesus Christ. And this answer is supported both by Scripture and history. Allegiance to Christ separates a person from ‘the world’, marks them off as different, and creates a discord, division, distrust, that leads to loss, rejection, persecution. Allegiance to Christ means suffering in this world.

Mark 8:34-38
John 15:18-20
John 17:14
Romans 8:17
1Peter 2:21-23

We have already seen something of this in earlier chapters on Revelation and will see more as we proceed, even in the very next chapter. This suffering of believers because of their allegiance to Christ is one of the major themes of the book.

There is, however, a deeper level to this ‘sourness’ or ‘bitterness’ generated by the Gospel. This ‘sourness’ was experienced by both Ezekiel and Jeremiah as they spoke the word of God to their generation:

‘Since my people are crushed, I am crushed’
I mourn, and horror grips me …
Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night for the slain of my people’ [Jeremiah 8:21, 9:1].

‘So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot’ [Jeremiah 20:8,9].

‘You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen …the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me …’ [read Ezekiel 2:5 – 3:9]

Because the redeemed know God by knowing Christ, they understand and experience something of the deep grief of God in response to the sin of the world and the judgment that must follow. To save us from sin and its judgment God sent his Son into the world; countless numbers are saved, but many are not, many persist in the rebellion that can only end with the judgment. This deep, deep grief of God is reported in the Scripture:

‘The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become … The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth and his heart was filled with pain’ [Genesis 6:5,6].

‘I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me’ [Jeremiah 3:19].

‘Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!’ [Ezekiel 18:31,32].

‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked … Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die …?’ [Ezekiel 33:11]

Jesus ‘looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts…’ [Mark 3:5].

‘… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate …’ [Luke 13:34,35].

‘As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come when your enemies will build an embankment against you … they will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you’ [Luke 19:41-44].

It was out of his deep burden for the lost that:

‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’ [Luke 19:10].

It is because of this deep desire that the lost be saved that the final judgment has been delayed:

‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ [2Peter 3:9].

‘You must prophesy …’
For this reason, out of this deep grief, the ‘mighty angel’, representative of Jesus Christ, commands John in this vision ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings’ [Revelation 10:11; see note* below – the word translated ‘about’ also has the meaning ‘upon’ or ‘towards’.]. Jesus commands John, and he commands us, to take his words, the gospel, into all the world, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, of reconciliation with God, bringing people from every nation, tribe and people – from the ends of the earth, back under the rule of God and of his Christ.

This is the responsibility of those who have ‘the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’. The Gospel, the good news, the message of the Kingdom, must be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. God, the God of glory, must be made known. People everywhere must be told about him and called to return to him and give him glory. The message of the Lamb that was slain to bring us back to God, must be told.

Here in this vision John hears again what he heard from the lips of the incarnate Son:

‘On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles’ [Matthew 10:18].

‘… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …’ [Matthew 28:19].

 ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’ [John 20:21].

[*Note: In 10:11, where the NIV reads ‘prophesy about many peoples …’ the preposition translated ‘about’ is epi. Because of this translation some conservative commentators interpret this verse to mean that John is here commanded not to preach to these peoples and nations, but to announce prophecies about them, and to conclude that this is carried out in some subsequent chapters of Revelation. However, this preposition epi has great flexibility, with a wide range of meanings, sometimes dependent on the case of the noun that follows it, sometimes dependent on the nature of the action that precedes it. In my interpretation I have chosen to understand epi to mean something like ‘towards’, similar to its use in Mark 6:34, where Jesus ‘had compassion on’ a large crowd. In both Revelation 10:11 and Mark 6:34 epi is followed by the dative case.]

Summing up Revelation 10:
In Chapter 10, with its vision of the mighty angel with the scroll, we have been taken back to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Jesus came and he held out the Word of life, commanding us to believe his word and receive him as our God. When we do the salvation, the restored relationship with God, the forgiveness of sin, is oh so sweet. But the Gospel opens our eyes to the horrific nature of human sin and the horror of God’s judgment. It connects us with the deep grief of God. And with this awareness and this connection comes the command to us all: to go into all the world as his witnesses, bearing the testimony of Jesus Christ to all people.

Thus Chapter 10 lays the foundations for what is about to be revealed in Chapter 11.

 

B. THE TWO WITNESSES - 11:1-14

Some scholars state that Revelation 11 is one of the most difficult chapters to understand. There is significant difference of opinion about what it is talking about, and when it is talking about. It is, therefore, highly likely that what I write about this chapter will be contrary to what some of you believe about it. That is inevitable, regardless of which position I take.

Before we look at the text let us realize that this, like Chapter 10, is revealed to John between the sounding of the sixth and seventh trumpets. We are not told until Revelation 11:14 that ‘The second woe has passed, the third woe is coming soon’.

B.1 The measuring … verse 1
Again we have John engaged interactively in the vision. He does not state it, but clearly, in the vision, there is a physical temple, and he, in the vision, is given a physical reed and instructed to measure the physical temple, altar and worshippers [11:1]. [If we date Revelation in the AD 90s, the actual temple no longer existed.] The physical ‘temple’ in the vision is not the complete structure – it is the ‘sanctuary’ – the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The Greek word used is naos not hieron. The latter commonly referred to the entire structure, the former to the sanctuary. The ‘altar’ is the altar of incense, the ‘golden altar’ which we have seen in 8:3b. These are the ‘physical’ objects in this vision. Our task is now to understand what these ‘physical’ objects represent in terms of spiritual reality.

We can affirm:

[1] That the physical ‘temple’ does not represent a restored, glorious physical temple. It is quite clear in Revelation 21:22 that there is no temple in the new heavens and the new earth. It is also quite clear in the New Testament that the Church – those people who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ – are, both individually and corporately, the holy temple of God in which God dwells by his Spirit. We have seen this in earlier studies. You can read about this in Ephesians 2:21,22 and 1Corinthians 3:16, 6:19.

[2] That the altar of incense has previously been associated with the prayers of God’s people, and that it is quite possible that that is what is represented here, or, perhaps, a broader reference not only to prayers but also to all forms of worship – prayer, service, praise and so on. This worship is acceptable to God because of the mediation of Jesus Christ, and because of the indwelling Spirit. Read Ephesians 2:18. This is the worship ‘in Spirit and in truth’ that is sought and accepted by God [John 4:23,24].

[3] The ‘worshippers’ that John is instructed to ‘measure’ or ‘count’ are those who are in Christ, who through him have access into the presence of God; these are those who believe in Jesus Christ. As we saw in 7:4-8 the number of the redeemed is represented by a symbolic number that indicates completion. God knows those that are his. He knows their exact number. Although to man they are uncountable [7:9], Jesus Christ knows each of his redeemed by name [John 10:3,27].

[4] By the physical concept of ‘measuring’ we are given a sense of security and safety: these are measured – marked off, singled out, identified. This parallels the sealing of the redeemed in 7:3,4. This sealing, and this measuring, identifies this spiritual ‘temple’, these prayers, these people as belonging to and precious to God. [Note that the glorious temple described in Ezekiel and symbolic of the spiritual temple of God is very deliberately and precisely measured – see, for example Ezekiel 40:5-37].

Here in this verse we are given yet again a symbolic picture of the real and eternal security of the redeemed – God’s holy dwelling in which he lives by his Spirit, whose prayers and whose worship are acceptable because of the intercession of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, and whose number is already known (‘measured’) by God. Not one can be lost.

B.2 The exclusion … verse 2
Here, in the vision, we again have physical symbols of spiritual reality. John is commanded not to measure the ‘outer court’ because ‘it has been given to the Gentiles’.

Here, in terms of spiritual reality, is the unbelieving world – those who because of their unbelief do not have access to God and are not the dwelling place of God. They are ‘Gentiles’ – not in terms of racial background, but in terms of their separation from God. They do not have God. They do not believe in the one true God. They do not acknowledge Jesus Christ. They are the lost, including the unbelieving descendants of Abraham.

In addition, they actively oppose ‘the holy city’. We have already seen in Revelation 3, and we will see again later, that ‘the holy city’ represents the church of Jesus Christ, the bride of Christ, the ‘new Jerusalem’, that is, those who believe in him. The unbelieving world tramples on believers. This is a recurring theme throughout Revelation. This is the ‘suffering’ common to believers, of which John is repeatedly writing, and because of which this revelation was given and this book was written.

The word translated ‘exclude’ [NIV] and ‘leave out’ [KJV] is ekballo which means ‘cast out’. It is not just passively excluding or omitting from the measuring, it is actively throwing them out. This deliberate and active exclusion is strengthened further by the repetition of the ek – not only is it attached as a prefix to ballo [throw], it also follows ballo as an adverb – exo – meaning ‘outside’ or ‘away’.

In Revelation 1:9 John described himself as ‘your brother and companion in suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus’. Here in 11:1,2 we are given a vision of both the kingdom and the suffering that are ours in Jesus Christ:

The measuring, like the sealing of Chapter 7, both indicates and guarantees the position of the redeemed in the kingdom.
Their presence in the midst of the unbelieving world, which is outside the kingdom, indicates the on-going suffering of the redeemed.


Those who are excluded from the kingdom by their unbelief do not understand the faith of those who are now in the kingdom. As Peter explains ‘They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you’ [1Peter 4:4]. And as Paul stated: ‘The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned’ [1Corinthians 2:14]. The Jews, not understanding who Jesus was, were offended by his teaching [John 6:61] and attempted to kill him on a number of occasions. Saul, not understanding the truth about Jesus, and believing both Christ and Christianity to be blasphemous, armed himself with authorization to arrest all who named the name of Christ [Acts 9:1,2; 22:3-5; 26:9-11].

Biblical faith will always attract the opposition of those who do not have biblical faith. That is the way it is. That is the way it was for Jesus Christ and for the early Christians. That is the way it is during the whole Church age between the first and final comings of Jesus Christ: Those who are marked out by God as his own attract the opposition of those who do not acknowledge him.

B.3 For how long …?
There are two measurements of time given in these verses: 42 months [verse 2] and 1,260 days [verse 3]. Both are three and a half years. It is during this period two things happen: the godless trample on God’s people and God’s people witness. These two ‘events’ help us to identify what period of time is represented by this apocalyptic symbol of three and a half years: it is the entire church age, for it is during the entire church age that these two things occur: persecution and witness. [Note also Revelation 12:6 and 14 where three and a half years are again indicated as the symbol for the Church age, which is also the age of persecution.]

Let us look a bit more at this ‘three and a half years’. This number falls short of perfection, which is represented by the number 7. Although we are saved we are still surrounded by and involved in sin and suffering. Although we are saved we are not in the final state. The ‘already’ is ‘not yet’ all that God has in store for his children. In a way, we could say that this interim stage is ‘half perfect’ – saved from spiritual death, but still suffering physical death; no longer belonging to this world, but still in this world; saved from the penalty of sin, but still struggling with the presence and the power of sin; already members of the kingdom, but not yet experiencing the full reality of the kingdom. And so on. This interim is not the ultimate state, the perfect state, the eternal state. It is, compared to eternity, a brief and passing temporary state.

B.4 My two witnesses … 11:3ff
We have not been informed who the speaker is in this vision. John simply said that he ‘was told’ [verse 1]. The voice in verse 3 must be the voice of God or of Jesus Christ, because it identifies the ‘two witnesses’ as ‘my two witnesses’.

It is common to find people naming two specific individual human beings as these two witnesses. To do so seems to minimize the relevance and application of this vision, limiting it to two people out of all the believers who have ever lived. This is contrary to the whole feel of Revelation which is a message for the suffering church of all ages.

To try to identify who or what is represented by this apocalyptic symbol of ‘two witnesses’, let us look at what we are told about their identity:

They belong to Jesus Christ - the voice calls them my two witnesses.

They are his ‘witnesses’ – they have seen and heard, and therefore know, the truth about Jesus Christ.

They are wearing sackcloth which indicates that they are characterised by mourning. Interestingly, Jesus identified those who believe in him as ‘those who mourn’ [Matthew 5:4]. In Scripture the most frequent references to sackcloth relate to people mourning because of impending judgment from God upon sin and rebellion. We have already seen in Chapter 10 the bitterness of the ‘little scroll’ – that the Gospel, though the savour of life to those who are saved, confirms the judgment and condemnation of those who do not believe. This deep grief characterizes those who know the Gospel, the ‘witnesses’ – this mourning for the lost who, unless they repent and believe, will face the final judgment and experience the final penalty.

They stand before the Lord of all the earth. They have access to his presence and are accepted in his presence. This is their permanent position. We have already seen this secure unimpeded access to God in previous chapters.

All of the above indicate that the symbol of the ‘two witnesses’ most definitely represents people who know and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The ‘two witnesses’ are called ‘the two olive trees’ and ‘two lampstands’. This is not saying there are actually four, but that the ‘two witnesses’ are both of these – two olive trees and two lampstands. There are two relevant Scriptures to help our understanding:

Zechariah 4:1-14 speaks of ‘two olive trees’ by ‘a solid gold lampstand’ [verse 2,3] and ‘to the right and left of the lampstand’ [verse 11]. In response to Zechariah’s question, ‘the angel’ who was talking with him said ‘These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth’ [verse 14]. Although the details are different [one, not two lampstands] it seems obvious that Revelation 11 has these verses in mind.

The context of the Zechariah vision is that of Zerubbabel rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, which also includes a similar concept to measuring – the plumbline in his hand, by which he ensures the correct alignment of the building. Zerubbabel’s temple was but a poor replacement of Solomon’s temple, but even so it was a predictive symbol of the spiritual temple, the Church of Jesus Christ.

In addition, Zechariah speaks of two servants of God – Zerubbabel and Joshua, the ‘king’ and the high priest. These are the two witnesses, the two lampstands, the two olive trees in Zechariah. And these are the two witnesses, two lampstands and two olive trees in Revelation 11. Has not Revelation 1:6 already taught us that those who are saved by the blood of Christ are ‘a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father’? And has not Revelation 5:10 taught us, similarly, that the Lamb has purchased for God men from every tribe and nation and made them ‘a kingdom and priests to serve our God’?

In Romans 11:17-24 Paul uses the symbol of the olive tree to represent the spiritual people of God. He speaks of two distinct groups who comprise the one spiritual people of God – ‘the olive tree’. Both have been grafted into it – ‘wild’ olive branches [representing Gentiles who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ] and branches that had been broken off the olive tree and are now grafted back into it [representing Jews who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ]. In this ‘olive tree’ are all true believers from all generations – Old Testament believers, and New Testament believers.

A valid conclusion supported by the above is that these ‘two witnesses’ of Revelation 11 represent the sum total of believers from both the Old and New Testaments – Old Testament saints who longed for the day of Christ [read Luke 10:23,24; Hebrews 11:39,40; 1Peter 1:10-12] and New Testament believers in Christ, both Jew and Gentile.

The symbol of the ‘lampstands’ has already been used in Revelation 1, where there were seven lampstands each representing one of the churches to which the seven letters of Chapters 2 and 3 were addressed, and together symbolic of the true church of Jesus Christ from all ages and all places. As his witnesses they shine the light of his truth into the darkness of the world.

B.5 The power and authority of the two witnesses – 11:5,6
But the darkness is antagonistic to the light, just as it was to Jesus, so the light finds itself involved in conflict. The next two verses focus on the power and authority of the two witnesses, that is the power and authority of the people of God from both Testaments.

If anyone tries to harm them …
The voice speaking to John in this vision states that if anyone tries to harm Christ’s two witnesses ‘fire comes from their mouths, and devours their enemies’ [verse 5]. We have already seen that fire is a biblical symbol of judgment [Chapter 8]. We have also seen that the words of Jesus Christ stand in judgment upon those who do not believe them, and now we have the similar truth that the words of the witnesses of Christ act as judgment upon those who reject those words, and further, on those who try to harm his witnesses. Verse 5 indicates that those who want to harm Christ’s witnesses must [the must of necessity] die in this way. Their rejection of the witnesses and their witness cannot result in any other end than their judgment and condemnation.

This is supported by Jesus’ teaching in John 16:5-11 where he stated that when the Holy Spirit came to his disciples he, the Holy Spirit, would convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness and judgment. That is, through the witness of the Church, the Holy Spirit would do his convicting work, exposing the guilt of the world.

Similarly, in John 3:17-18, rejection of the light means condemnation. It can have no other result than the fire of God’s judgment, because acknowledgment of the light is the only way to escape the condemnation.

These men have power …
The witnesses are further described as having power to inflict all sorts of plagues upon the earth during the time of their witness. This is evident in two different ways:

Historically, it is recorded in the pages of the Old Testament in the lives of, for example, Moses and Elijah.

Currently, it has just been detailed in Revelation 8 and will be mentioned again in Revelation 16, that the prayers of the redeemed evoke the judgment of God upon those who persecute them.

What John is told about the two witnesses in Revelation 11 is retrospective, including both Old Testament and New Testament witnesses, as well as current and future. This reflects the perspective given elsewhere in the Scripture:

In Matthew 23:29-36 Jesus referred collectively to the persecution of his disciples and the persecution of the Old Testament prophets, and held ‘this generation’ responsible for the blood of them all – from ‘righteous Abel’ right through to Zechariah, and beyond that to the persecution of those who believed in him.

Hebrews 11, similarly, begins the list of those persecuted for their faith with Abel, and gathers together a great host of witnesses, many of whom were killed because of their witness. Hebrews 12:1 states that contemporary believers ‘are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses’ and commends us to the same fixed and focused faith that presses on, enduring the suffering, because of the promised joy that is set before us [verses 1-3].

Paul presents a similar perspective on the perennial war on God’s witnesses in 1Thessalonians 2:13-16.

Here in Revelation 11:3-6 is the church in proclamation – from righteous Abel through to the last of the redeemed present on earth immediately before Jesus returns in glory and in judgment.

B.6 The suffering of the Church – 11:7-12
There is opposition to this witness. There is hatred towards God’s witnesses. The age of proclamation is also the age of hatred and persecution. Even as we read of their power and authority we were also told of this. From Abel right through to the present day, and further on until the Lord’s return there is hatred from the world and there is the suffering of the redeemed. We have seen this before and we will see it again as we study Revelation. This is inevitable and unavoidable for those who are aligned with Jesus Christ.

Scripture research
This suffering is because of Christ and his word:
Matthew 5:10,11; Luke 6:22
Matthew 10:21,22
Matthew 13:21
Luke 21:12
Romans 8:36
2Corinthians 1:5
Philippians 1:27-30
2Thessalonians 1:5
2Timothy 1:11,12; 2:8,9
Hebrews 11:25,26
1Peter 4:12-16

This suffering is inevitable
Matthew 24:9
John 15:18-16:4
John 16:33
Acts 9:16
Acts 14:21,22
Romans 8:17
2Corinthians 1:5
1Thessalonians 3:4
2Timothy 3:12
1John 3:13

This suffering is sometimes at the hands of people who are religious, but unbelieving
John 9:18-34; 12:10,11
John 16:2,3
Acts 13:49,50

In Revelation 11, where the focus is on the church as it proclaims Jesus Christ, we are given insight into the suffering it experiences because of the word it proclaims.

B.6.1 There is a limit to the suffering
Overall, the age of proclamation, and hence the age of persecution, is limited: this limitation is symbolically represented in this vision by the 42 months, the 1,260 days, that is, three and a half years [verses 2,3].

Individually and corporately, the suffering ends ‘when they have finished their testimony’ [verse 7]. The verb translated ‘finished’ is teleo – which means completed, accomplished, brought to its intended goal. It is not possible for them to be killed by the enemy before they have accomplished God’s purpose for them.  This is, at the same time, both a comforting and a frightening thought.

It is comforting because it assures us that our times, our lives, our death, both as individual believers and corporately as the Church, are in God’s hands, not the enemy’s. God’s purpose for us individually and for the Church must be accomplished. This was the perspective of Jesus Christ: that death could not terminate his life until the time appointed by God; and that his enemies had no power over him except what was given them by God:

John 7:30; 8:20; 10:39
John 12:33; 13:1; 17:1
Mark 14:41
John 19:10,11
Acts 2:23

And this was the perspective of Paul, faced with the very real threat of execution:

Philippians 1:18-26
2Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18

The ‘gates of hell’ cannot prevail against the Church. Christ is building his Church and until that is accomplished, the Church will survive. Read Matthew 16:18. Neither Satan nor his human supporters can destroy the Church until the full number of the redeemed from every tribe and nation and language and people are gathered in, that complete number symbolised in the 144,000 of 7:4.

But it is also an unwelcome thought, because suffering and death are alien intruders in this world, here only because human sin entered the world in Genesis 3. We were not created for death. Our whole being rebels against it. So alien and wrong is it that those who inflict suffering and death on the redeemed become the targets of God’s judgment.

B.6.2 The enemy
The enemy is both one and many.

[1] Revelation 11 refers to him by the symbol of ‘the beast that comes up from the Abyss’. We have already encountered a similar dark enemy from a similar dark place in Chapter 9:1 and 11. While some symbolic details are different this ‘beast from the Abyss’ in 11:7 clearly represents Satan. He used to hold everyone in slavery by the fear of death, but has already been ‘destroyed’ by Jesus Christ [Hebrews 2:14-15]. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who now ‘holds the keys of death and Hades’ [Revelation 1:18]. Satan has no power over the witnesses except that permitted by Christ.

As we have seen in 9:11 this enemy’s name is ‘Abaddon’ and ‘Apollyon’, both of which mean ‘Destroyer’. Destruction characterises him; destruction is his intention. This destructive intention is directed against both individual believers and the Church.

[2] The enemy of the Church is also referred to as ‘the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified’ [verse 8]. The last phrase is a clear reference to Jerusalem. It was once called ‘the holy city’, ‘the city of God’, but now it is characterised as ‘Sodom’ [symbolic of physical sexual perversion, which in turn is symbolic of spiritual adultery], and ‘Egypt’ [symbolic of the enslavement and persecution of the people of God, and also representing the spurious objects of human trust that take the place of God, who alone is worthy of our trust].  The term ‘the great city’ elsewhere in Revelation is a reference to Babylon, ‘the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth’ – the symbolic source of all that is evil. This fourfold symbolic alliance of evil and opposition – Babylon, Sodom, Egypt, Jerusalem – represents any and every human city, community or civilization that sets itself against the Lord and his witnesses. It represents the anti-god and godless mindset of the world, including the religions of men.

[3] The enemy is also referred to as ‘men from every people, tribe, language and nation’ and ‘the inhabitants of the earth’ [verses 9,10]. Christ’s witnesses, the Church, have ‘tormented those who live on earth’ by their proclamation of Jesus Christ. This opposition against them is global. No place and no people are excluded. The world would rather have been left alone. The world would rather not have heard the Gospel with its disturbing, confrontational, demanding message, with its conviction of guilt and sin, with its strong denunciation of both their gods and their actions. Just as the world rejected Jesus so it hates his witnesses, his Church.

‘He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him’ [John 1:10,11].

Thus Jesus said to his witnesses: ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first’ [John 15:18].

B.6.3 What the enemy does to the Church
[1] When the ‘two witnesses’ have accomplished God’s purpose for them – when we individually and the Church corporately have completed God’s purpose – then, and only then, is the enemy permitted to attack in such a way that the witnesses, the Church, are overpowered and ‘killed’ [verse 7].

It would take up far too much space to recount instances in which, in a given community or country, Christ’s witnesses have been silenced, either permanently or for a time. If we look around our world today we can identify communities, cities or countries in which there was once a vibrant active church, but where today there is no witness, or extremely minimal and weak witness. This removal or severe reduction of witness has already been mentioned in Revelation. It has a number of causes, from God’s perspective:

The failure of the ‘church’ to be faithful to Christ and his Gospel [2:5; 3:16].
The removal of the Word of God as a judgment of God on the unbelieving world [9:1-11].
God’s purpose for the Church in a particular place has been accomplished [11:7].

This reduction and/or removal of the Church and its witness, whether by the death of individual believers, or by the removal of the Church in a given place, has been happening throughout the Church age. But it is also clear from the Scripture that there will be such a reduction/removal on a global scale immediately prior to the end.

In Matthew 24:9-14 Jesus spoke of the apostasy that would follow intense persecution and hatred – ‘many will turn away from the faith … the love of most will grow cold’.

In Matthew 24:24 Jesus taught that all but ‘the elect’ will be lured away by false Christs. [It is very important that we take note here that it is not possible for ‘the elect’ to be deceived in a final, fatal way.]

Paul taught of the ‘rebellion’ that would occur not long before the end, the removal of ‘the one who is holding back’ the power of lawlessness, and the ‘powerful delusion’ that would deceive those who do not believe [2Thessalonians 2:3-12].

In his instructions to Timothy Paul warned that ‘the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine’ and will ‘turn away from the truth’ [2Timothy 4:3,4].

The ‘death’ of the Church does not necessarily mean that the public institution of the ‘church’ ceases to exist. People might still meet together as a ‘church’ in a building called a ‘church’ as part of a denomination termed a ‘church’. But its identity as the Church of Jesus Christ can have ceased. When a ‘church’ fails to proclaim the biblical Jesus and the biblical Gospel, when its members or adherents fail to believe in the biblical Jesus, then that church is dead. The enemy has successfully corrupted their understanding, deceived them with his lies and his false miracles, and destroyed them as a witness for Christ. The carcass of that ‘church’ remains there in that community: a building where once the witness of Christ was heard, people still going through an ineffective ritual of meeting together, but there is no witness. There may be a great lot of physical noise and physical life, but spiritually there is only the silence of spiritual death.
 
[2] The enemy has no respect for the Church [the bodies of the ‘two witnesses’ are left unburied and become a global public spectacle – verse 9]. This refusal of burial is an expression of contempt. The unbelieving world holds the Church in contempt.

[3] The enemy celebrates the demise of the Church – verse 10. Not only does the world hold the Church in contempt, it also gloats over and celebrates the fall of the Church. We do not have to look beyond our newspapers and televisions to see this in action: how quickly do the godless gloat over the fall of a Christian leader, or the exposure of paedophilia in a Christian organisation! How happily do the godless acclaim the removal of some biblical standard of morality from the laws of the land! How they rejoice when a Christian leader or church denomination speaks publicly in favour of such a rejection of biblical standards!

B.6.4 But the enemy’s joy is untimely
Leaving aside that death of the Church that is due to either the atrophy or apathy of the ‘church’ – that portion of the ‘church’ that never had ‘life’ in the spiritual sense, let us focus on what happens to these ‘two witnesses’ – to the real Church that has been in the past, present or future ‘killed’ by the deliberate action of the enemy.

The time between the accomplishment of God’s purpose for the Church and the return of Christ is brief – in apocalyptic symbol ‘three and a half days’ [verse11,12].

The resurrection of the witnesses – 11:11,12.
Revelation 11:7-12 uses the apocalyptic symbol of ‘two witnesses’ to communicate truth that is much, much bigger than two individual Christians and their martyrdom. What is described here is something that is far bigger than that. This is obvious in verses 8 where the enemy is described under the symbols of four different physical places, and in verses 9 and 10 where the inhabitants of the whole earth react with contempt for the witnesses and celebration of their death. We are learning here not the fate of two individual witnesses but of all witnesses, all believers in Christ, all the redeemed – those who have been killed because of their witness, and those who have died a normal death prior to the return of Jesus Christ.

As far as the world is concerned, all of these believers are dead. End of story. Their message of life after death is a fool’s tale. Their expectation of life with God forever is absurd. Their insistence that there is judgment beyond death in which all men must stand before God as judge is ridiculed or ignored. They have been following a fairy tale; they have based their life on a human myth. Death has overtaken them and death is the end.

But, Revelation 11 affirms, death is not the end. It is just as these witnesses have testified: there is the resurrection, the real, physical resurrection of all who believe in Jesus Christ.

Suggested reading:
John 11:25,26; 14:3
Romans 6:5-11
1Corinthians 15:12-26
1Thessalonians 4:13-18

The dead in Christ rise. At his coming their bodies are reconstituted and reunited with their souls. Life is restored to them. This physical resurrection of those who have died believing in Christ is witnessed by the unbelieving world. All around the world those who rejected the witness of the Church, those who hated Christ’s witnesses, those who persecuted and killed Christ’s witnesses, observe this, and are terrified [11:11].

And we wonder – are they terrified because the dead have come to life before their eyes? Or are they terrified because they see before them the validation of the witness of the Church, the verification of the Word of God proclaimed by the Church, the proof of the testimony of Jesus?

Are they terrified because they now realize that the judgment of God is about to fall?

This is clearly not a secret ‘rapture’. It is seen by the unbelieving world, and the unbelieving world is scared out of its wits. The enemies of the witnesses not only observed their resurrection, but also ‘looked on’ watching the witnesses go up in a cloud [11:12].

[Additional perspectives:
[1] We are not told here in Revelation 11, but we are told in 1Thessalonians 4:17 that immediately after the dead believers are resurrected, believers who are still living when Jesus returns will also be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

[2] While the comments above have understood Revelation 11:11,12 in reference to the ‘rapture’ of the saints [dead and living] at the return of Christ, there is also an additional legitimate preliminary and anticipatory sense in which these verses can be understood to refer to something that has occurred repeatedly in various locations and times in the history of the Church and continues to occur: that when the world has done its worst to the Church, and the Church seems to have lost both the battle and its will to continue to fight for Christ and his Word, the Church, to the amazement of the watching world, revives and stands again as the witnesses of Christ in the world.]

The voice from heaven
By the cloud, and by the loud voice from that called the witnesses we are immediately aware that this vision, associated with the sixth trumpet, has now brought us to the very verge of the end. By this cloud and this voice we know that the Lord is about to descend, no, has already begun his descent from heaven to earth. He himself if not yet visible, but his voice is heard by the witnesses, and the cloud that surrounds him is visible.

1Thessalonians 4:16 states that when the Lord Jesus returns he ‘will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel’.  

In John 5:28 Jesus taught that a time was coming when the dead would hear his voice and come out of their graves.

Matthew 24:30 and 26:64, Mark 13:26 and 14:52, 1Thessalonians 4:17 and Revelation 1:7 all state that Jesus will come in or with clouds.

Here in this vision: The Church has accomplished its purpose on earth. The final part of that ‘mystery of God’ of which the mighty angel spoke in 10:7 is now fully accomplished. The Church, the complete number of the redeemed from every tribe and nation, has been built. The time of witness, the age of grace, has ended. Now the end must come. Now, there is no more delay. Now Jesus Christ is returning, coming back for his own to take them to be with him for ever. Soon, very, very soon now, the judgment on the unbelieving must fall.

The terror of the unredeemed
At the same time as the witnesses are called up into the cloud by the voice of the Lord an ominous physical disaster fell upon the earth [verse 13]. Here the whole of the unbelieving world is symbolised by ‘the city’ – that city that has previously been referred to as Babylon, Sodom, Egypt and Jerusalem [verse 8]. This terrible earthquake is not the end, not the final destruction, but it is the final forewarning that the end is near. Those who physically survive this final preliminary calamity, this final preliminary judgment, are terrified.

Too late they realize that there actually is a real God. Too late they realize their accountability to him. Like Nebuchadnezzar they give verbal recognition to God’s existence and his power [Daniel 3:28-29] but do not have personal faith. But unlike Nebuchadnezzar, they will have no further opportunity to hear the word of God, repent and believe [Daniel 4:29-37]. There is no one left who can tell them who God really is. There is no one left to tell them how to find reconciliation with this God they now realize exists. His witnesses have all been removed by the Lord, and with them the testimony of Jesus has been removed, and with them the word of God has been taken away. Like those who refused to listen to the preaching of Noah, these also are about to realize that the door of salvation is already shut. The rain of God’s judgment has begun to pour down upon them, and they are not saved.

This is the end of the second woe, the sixth trumpet.

 

C. THE SEVENTH TRUMPET – 11:15-19

The seventh trumpet introduces the final events, those things that will happen at ‘the end of the world’ when Jesus Christ returns to judge the earth, remove all that is opposed to his Kingdom, and establish the final and eternal expression of his Kingdom. We have already been taught about this in Revelation:

In Chapters 1 – 3 where in each of the letters to the seven churches aspects of the eternal blessedness of the redeemed are described.

In Chapters 4 – 7 where the final judgment [6:12-17] and the blessedness of the redeemed in the eternal state [7:9-17] are described.

Chapter 11:15-19 gives a brief but fairly comprehensive summary of what will happen at that time.

C.1 The voices from heaven: the eternal Kingdom has come [verse 15]
When the seventh angel sounded his trumpet loud voices in heaven announced that the Kingdom had come. Here in this vision that kingdom for whose coming we pray every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer has come.

What does this mean? According to the loud voices [of many angels] sounding from heaven it means:

That ‘the kingdom of the world’ – that renegade, rebel kingdom that refused to acknowledge its Maker, that kingdom that had since Genesis 3 been under the dominion of darkness, the rule of Satan the enemy of God – is no longer ‘the kingdom of the world’. We are not specifically told in this vision how this has occurred or what has happened to bring this about. That is revealed in other visions.

The ‘kingdom of the world’ has become ‘the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ’. Now God and his Son, his Messiah – his anointed One, possess and rule ‘the kingdom’. There is only one kingdom now, and it belongs to God, it is under his authority, it is submissive to his rule. The verb ‘has become’ is in the Aorist Tense, indicating a decisive, once-for-all action. The thing is done, and it is done decisively. No ifs, buts or maybes. No conditions. No provisos. There is no longer that rebel kingdom that set itself up against God. There is only one kingdom, and it is God’s. For ever.

God, and his Christ, will ‘reign for ever and ever’. Here is the eternal kingdom long promised to the ‘Son of David’. Here the reality of God’s reign, which has always existed, is now seen and acknowledged. Here is the kingdom that will never pass away. Here is the kingdom that is not subject to decay or corruption or rebellion. Here is the King eternal seen as he really is.

Note that this is not a temporary reign and not a temporary kingdom. The kingdom that is established on the return of Jesus Christ is the eternal kingdom in which there is no more rebellion. In which there is no more sin and no more death. We have already read of this in Revelation 7, and we will read of it again in later chapters.

Suggested reading:
Psalm 10:16; 45:6; 145:13 [Daniel 4:34];
Isaiah 9:7
Daniel 7:14, 27
Luke 1:33
1Timothy 1:17; 6:14-16
Hebrews 1:8
2Peter 1:11.

C.2 The worship of the twenty-four elders: thanks to the Lord God Almighty [11:16-18]
While the loud voices from heaven announced the triumph of the Kingdom of God and of his Christ the twenty-four elders, symbolic and representative of the redeemed from all generations, both Jew and Gentile, fell on their faces before God and worshipped him. [These elders are described as ‘seated on their thrones before God’.]

The content of their worship – the content of our worship – is:

[1] We give thanks to you …. God is addressed as ‘Lord God Almighty’ and ‘the One who is and who was’. Here the twenty-four elders acknowledge the sovereign power and authority of God: he is the One in charge, and he has now accomplished his eternal purpose. Everything he said he would do he has now done. They also acknowledge his eternity – he is the One who is and the One who was. He is the ever-present One, the One who revealed himself to Moses as the I AM. He is the One already introduced in Revelation 1:4 & 8 and 4:8 as ‘the one who is, and who was, and who is to come’. But now something has happened to this repeated descriptive formula: the ‘who is to come’ has been dropped off*. He is no longer the God ‘who is to come’ – because he has come. In the person of his beloved Son, whom we will in later chapters see as the conquering King of kings and the Lord of lords, he has now come back, just as he promised he would. This is what the loud voices from heaven and the twenty-four elders are so excited about.  

[*Note: some older translations include ‘who is to come’, based on its inclusion in some Greek manuscripts. The consensus of more recent scholarship is that this phrase is not in the more reliable manuscripts.]

[2] …because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.
God has always been in the position of absolute power. However, because of his grace he has withheld the total application and implementation of that power, exposing himself to ridicule and criticism and misunderstanding. He has for millennia deliberately not done what he could justly have done to his rebel subjects. He has, in giving us time to repent, held back from exercising his full judicial authority. He has, at times, let us go exactly how we pleased so that we would see the horrific nature of our sin and our evil and come running back to him. But now that age of lenience, of compromise on God’s part – that age of mercy and grace - is past. God has exerted his power. God has acted on his absolute authority. He has taken up that which was always his – his great power, and has begun to reign in an absolute way. The verb ‘has taken up’ is Perfect Tense: this indicates a completed action, with continued and present results. God has taken up his power, he has done it completely, and it is still done: he still holds, and will hold forever, his power. The verb ‘has begun to reign’ is Aorist Tense: indicating a decisive, once-for-all action, and in this instance, also an inceptive action.

That absolute and permanent reign of God has begun. No one else will reign, ever. There are no contenders for his throne left, and nor will there ever again be any contenders for his throne. [We will learn more of this in later visions.]

[3] The nations were angry and your wrath has come …
In the Greek both ‘angry’ and ‘wrath’ are from the same Greek word. The nations were angry and God’s anger has come. The anger of the nations is their illegitimate anger towards God, towards his Messiah and towards his witnesses. This anger has been evident in the world from the anger of Cain [Genesis 4:5] through to the anger directed at Jesus Christ [Psalm 2:1-3; Luke 4:28] and up to the anger directed against the last witness of Christ. The anger, or wrath, of God directed towards ‘the nations’ is his legitimate (legally right, legally just) opposition against, judgment on and punishment of the nations. It is the essential, intrinsic, absolute and inevitable opposition of him who is Holy towards everything that is evil.

This is the wrath of God that is constantly being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of men [Romans 1:18].

This is the wrath to which we were all subject prior to our salvation by his grace [Ephesians 2:3].

This is the wrath of God from which the death of Christ has rescued those who believe in him [Romans 5:9; 1Thessalonians 1:10].

This is the wrath of God from which his witnesses laboured to save the godless [1Thessalonians 2:14-16].

This is the wrath of the Lamb of which we have already read in a previous vision [Revelation 6:16,17].

[4] The time has come for judging the dead …
This judging of the dead has two distinct aspects:

(1)    The rewarding of God’s people. Three different descriptions of God’s people are given: ‘your servants the prophets’, ‘your saints’ and ‘those who reverence your name’. Included are ‘both small and great’. No one is left out – these three descriptions together include all believers, all the redeemed.
We have already been told what the ‘rewards’ are in the letters to the seven churches in Chapters 2 and 3. Those rewards, promised to all ‘who overcome’, are not limited to the specific church to which each letter was addressed, but are ‘what the Spirit says to the churches’ plural, and are inclusive of all ‘who overcome’ from all churches, in all places, in all generations. These rewards are:

To eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God [2:7].
To not be hurt at all by the second death [2:11].
To be given some of the hidden manna, and a white stone with a new name [2:17].
To be given authority over the nations, and the morning star [2:26,28].
To be dressed in white, and never have their name blotted from the book of life [3:5].
To be made a pillar in the temple of God, and to have a new name [3:12ff].
To sit with Christ on his throne [3:21].

(2)    The destruction of those who destroy the earth. With these few words the judgment of the lost is symbolised and summarised. For the moment we are told nothing more about it. That will come in later visions. [The description of these as ‘those who destroy the earth’ gives us an acute insight into the effect of sin: it destroys the earth. From Genesis 3 onwards ‘the earth’ has not been what God created it to be. Corruption and destruction entered on that day and has been here ever since – both in relation to the human beings who inhabit the earth and in relation to the physical earth. See Romans 8:18-27.]

C.3 The conclusion of this vision [11:19]
Where the NIV has ‘Then’ the Greek has another ‘and’. This is not about a linear time sequence, it is about something else that was happening concurrently. When the seventh trumpet sounded, the angels were shouting out about the Kingdom come, the twenty-four elders were thanking God because he had taken up his great power and brought on the time of judgment, and  … two more things were happening. [We need again to be reminded that we are in a symbolic, apocalyptic vision, not in the real thing symbolised by this vision. What we are seeing here in this vision is symbolic of something far greater.]

[1] God’s temple in heaven was opened. As in 11:1, the word used is not hieron, but naos, indicating the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, not to the entire temple structure. The Most Holy Place in the real physical temple on earth, was a symbol for the real presence of God, and this is what we need to focus on here in this vision. The Most Holy Place, that physical, symbolic presence of God, was always closed to everyone, except the High Priest on the Day of Atonement [Leviticus 16]. No human being was permitted there, and even the High Priest could enter on that one day only by strict adherence to the conditions set by God. Any other entry was both banned and severely and instantly punished. The prohibitive temple curtain, and all the rules and regulations about the Most Holy Place, indicated the banning and exclusion of human access into to the presence of the Holy God. But now, John sees the sanctuary opened. So certain is this that he says that ‘the ark of the covenant was seen’. He could see right into the Most Holy Place. He could see right into the presence of God.

Here by this vision of the open sanctuary, and the visible Ark of the Covenant, we are taught that now, from this point on, nothing intrudes between God and human beings. There is no more need for the prohibitive curtain. Not only was that curtain ripped away at the very moment Jesus died [Matthew 27:50,51] enabling permanent present access to God for those who believe in him [Ephesians 2:18; Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-22], but now, now that the final judgment and destruction of evil has occurred, there is actually no more need for the curtain. Because ‘the end’ has come, there is now nothing in existence, nor will there ever again be anything in existence, that necessitates the ban, the prohibition.  We have not yet at this point in Revelation been given the details of the divine actions that achieved this removal of all that is evil, but we are here shown the result in advance – all that has the ability to cut humans off from God has been removed for ever. There is now nothing at all that can ever again exclude anyone from him. And there is now and never will be anyone or anything that merits exclusion.

Note: The ‘lid’ of the Ark was called ‘the mercy seat’ or ‘the atonement cover’. On this mercy seat blood was sprinkled by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement to make atonement for sin. This ‘mercy seat’ was, symbolically, the place where God met with and spoke with his people [Exodus 25:22; 30:6; Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 7:89].

In addition, God’s covenants with man have been fulfilled. God has kept his word. Not just the covenant with Israel, which was contained in the Ark [1Kings 8:9,21], but every covenant - every promise of mercy, salvation and life and every warning of judgment – has now been executed in full. God has proved himself to be faithful. There are no promises and no punishments left outstanding.

[2] God is present and judgment has fallen. Verse 19 gives a list of physical phenomena – flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.  Historically in the Bible, these phenomena are associated with two realities that are distinct but inseparable:

The reality of God’s holiness.
The reality of God’s judgment.

We have already seen in the vision in Revelation 4:5 that flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals thunder were coming out from the throne of God. We have already seen in 6:12-17 that multiple physical phenomena accompanied the wrath of ‘the one who sits on the throne’ and of ‘the Lamb’. We have seen several of these phenomena accompanying preliminary judgments [8:5, 11:8].

The Ark of the Covenant, which meant mercy and atonement for those who believed, meant exposure of guilt for those who did not. The throne of God, which for the redeemed is ‘the throne of grace’ [Hebrews 4:16], is for the unredeemed the throne of judgment.  

Here on the ‘last day’, the ‘day of wrath’, God has come, and nothing evil, nothing sinful can survive in his presence, nothing can escape his judgment. His presence, his holiness, consumes it all. From Genesis 3 until this day he in his mercy hid himself from human sight. He appeared only in symbols, he spoke only in blinding visions and through angelic representation. Even in the incarnation he was veiled in human flesh. But now the time of his wrath has come, now he has ripped away those gracious symbols by which he revealed himself and through which he spoke to sinful man. Heaven is opened. God is seen. And the earth shakes. No one survives the judgment but the redeemed.

So often in Scripture the heavens and the earth are called on to witness the horror of human rebellion. Here, on this last day, they witness the end of that rebellion.